Due to the rising awareness and concern about toxins in the environment, skin care companies are increasingly promoting green cosmetics. Many are labeling such cosmetics as organic, natural, green, eco- friendly or biodynamic. It is important to understand what this means and whether all of them are good for our skins.
A natural or eco- friendly product will usually contain plant based ingredients, e.g. herb oils etc, but it does not mean that the product is entirely absent of chemical ingredients. An organic product, on the other hand, should not include at any point during its manufacturing process, pesticides, artificial fertilizers or synthetic chemicals. The entire manufacturing process of organic cosmetics is important, from how the plant materials and other ingredients are grown, harvested, stored, transported and eventually processed and packaged. Producing organic cosmetics is a methodology whereby the purest possible products are grown, harvested and processed.
A popular rule of thumb when a green or eco-friendly skin care product is considered for purchase, is whether it is good enough to eat. It is only then that it should be good enough to be applied to the skin. This is because the skin is the largest organ of the body and it readily absorbs many ingredients in skin care preparations. This is both good and potentially harmful. Good, because it means that the skin can be nourished from the outside with wonderful ingredients, but when skin care products contain unsafe ingredients that are absorbed into the system, this may be harmful.
Many skin care products contain emollients, which prevent dryness by acting as a barrier and healing agent; humectants which attract and retain water that keep the skin moist; cleaning agents which are substances capable of dissolving oils so that they can be rinsed away with water; and preservatives. In some ways these ingredients may be bad for the skin when they are of synthetic nature.
Synthetic emollients are occlusive, coating the skin and preventing respiration (much like plastic wrap). Apart from causing allergies, many are also not bio-degradable. Natural emollients nourish
the skin and are of edible quality.
Many humectants in cosmetic products are sourced from animals, e.g. collagen and lanolin. They are not necessarily harmless, because the animal may have been dipped or treated with chemical pesticides and the product derived from it may then contain traces of the pesticides. Many chemical/synthetic humectants also form a suffocating film on the skin to prevent moisture loss, whereas a natural ingredient attracts water from the surrounding air and holds it where an increased level of hydration is needed.
Chemical cleaning agents in skin cleansers and shampoos often contain potent carcinogens and strip
Synthetic skin care products are routinely formulated to have a shelf life in excess of three years. This is largely a function of lengthy distribution channels and market behaviour necessitating long turn-around times. In order to achieve such substantial shelf lives, these products often contain large amounts of preservatives to prevent spoilage and they fall in a group of usually four synthetic parabens, which are cellular toxins that penetrate the skin and have been shown to cause allergic reactions and dermatitis. Natural preservatives which are preferable to these parabens include tea tree essential oil or grapefruit seed extract.
While there is no single, universally accepted set of guidelines yet for labeling cosmetics as green, natural or organic, the terms “certified organic” and “certified natural” are governed by a number of internationally recognized certification bodies and it would be wise to search for skin care products with the logo of a certifying body on the label. This is really the only way of being guaranteed integrity and authenticity in every ingredient in the product.
The best known certification programs include the Soil Association (United Kingdom), BDIH (Germany), ICEA (Italy), ACO (Australia), USDA (United States of America), COSMEBIO (France), Natrue (Europe) and ECOCERT (France). The symbols used by some are demonstrated here.